Blurting car horns and the whistle of fast-moving freeways become white noise to most Angelenos after a while. Even folks living near an airport say they stop noticing the sounds of the metal birds as they take flight or descend – it’s incredible how adaptive our brains are, blocking out unwanted stimuli.
That being said, I still crave quiet every so often, and if I can get that within the city limits, all the better. There is almost no place in L.A. I like more than Griffith Park to find such peace. More specifically, I take my kids to The Trails Cafe and the playground across the road.
Open since 2005, The Trails Cafe is a straightforward operation. A few workers man the inside of the rustic walk-up shack, serving good coffee and tea, even better pastries and an avocado sandwich I can’t not order, even if it’s not really meal time when we’ve arrived. The sandwich is stacked with sprouts and cheese and of course avocado, cubed, gently mashed and salted with a touch of bacon bits. You can easily split it with someone, if you’re not feeling greedy about it, and my oldest daughter is usually happy to oblige. We also never skip the lavender chocolate chip scone, which is larger than a hockey puck, fragrant and buttery. My three-year-old tried this one for the first time ever last year, giddy as she ate. Pie and quiche slices, plus the “snake dog” (hot dog wrapped in croissant dough) are other options liked by other cafe fans.
All of this works well because young kids are so snack-happy – or is that just mine? We take our goodies to the adjacent tables, heavily shaded by oak trees and more, and enjoy the calm as we share treats. It’s off to the play structures. We carefully cross Fern Dell Drive (it’s not a car-free experience, sadly) and then the pedestrian bridge over the dry creek bed. Then the kids are gone, running fast as lightning for the slides.
You can spend any amount of time here that suits your schedule. Sometimes that’s just 30 minutes for us, getting our wiggles out with strangers who become friends as we play. Other days we add to the excursion with a “hike.” If there are toddlers involved or babies in strollers, you can walk south along Fern Dell Trail, which curves under the road and alongside small ponds home to koi, crayfish and red-eared turtles. If your party is up for it, take Fern Dell Trail up its steep ascent to the Griffith Observatory. City and mountain views from here never disappoint, though you’ll surely share them with a crowd.
I’ve been returning to this part of the park for a decade, and each visit makes me feel lighter. Rather than blocking out sensations, I breathe them in – the rustle of the leaves, the dancing sunlight as it reaches through branches. It even smells good here, like earth kicked up by happy feet.
When To Go: Posted hours for Griffith Park are 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, and The Trails Cafe is open Thursday to Monday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cafe and playground are least crowded early in the morning. Keep in mind that the cafe line can get long, so if you do visit later in the day, pack your patience – the scone and sandwich are worth the wait.
The Trails Cafe, 2333 Fern Dell Drive, Los Angeles, 90068